Internet Censorship in South Korea

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Internet Censorship in South Korea is fairly restrictive since it censors any type of pro-North Korean material online and actively regulates the production/distribution of pornography. Due to these reasons, South Korea's (Republic of Korea) unique traits can be seen represented in its Internet environment. While freedom of expression online is guaranteed in South Korea, like many other developed countries in the world, certain aspects are still considered to be conservative or oppressed. There is a clear contradiction between democratic values of the country and level of government censorship [1].

As of 2012, the OpenNet Initiative has ranked South Korea's internet censorship in the sector of security/conflict as "pervasive filtering" due to the censorship of pro-North Korean content. In terms of social content, the level of filtering was deemed "selective, and in the sector of political and internet tools, no evidence of filtering was found. Other factors, such as transparency and consistency, were ranked as "high"[2]. This filtering contributes to the ethical concern of a severe invasion of privacy - to such an extent that it may be considered constant surveillance.


Basic censorship


Since 1948, the Republic of Korea has actively enforced the National Security Act (NSA)[3], which states that those who show empathy or favoritism for pro-North Korean materials can be criminally prosecuted. This is based on the fact that the government of South Korea is established under the ideology of liberalism; an ideology strongly opposed to communism, which is the fundamental basis of the North Korean government infrastructure. The 1990 Act on Exchanges and Collaboration[3] depicts that citizens of South Korea should report to the government should they interact in any way with North Korean citizens or come in contact with materials related to them on any level. This act was passed by the government in an effort to hinder South Koreans from the spreading of North Korean communist ideologies. The Information and Communications Network Act (ICNA)[3] also acts as a barrier in the realm of the Internet by promoting website hosts to censor illegal or problematic materials as soon as they detect them. In addition, the Information and Communications Network Act (ICNA) made a significant contribution towards founding legislative bills protecting politicians, as well as effectively censoring people who produce and distribute fake information about politicians during a presidential election[4]. In cases where there is a dispute regarding whether a content online is inappropriate, legal protection is provided in court to those conforming to this law.

Website of Woori-minjok-kkiri - North Korean Propaganda

Discussion about North Korean Websites

South Korea actively blocks websites that are either pro-North Korean or directly hosted by the North Korean government. Since the advent of Internet technology, the North Korean government has been continuously putting an effort into propagandizing their ideology by publishing articles and announcements made in their country. As of 2004, the South Korean cybersecurity police had effectively discovered and censored 43 pro-North Korean websites. An investigation was also launched to track down IP addresses which North Korean developers were using to host propaganda websites, which found that most host servers were outside the country, with an especially high number of offending servers in Japan. Some of the websites hosted in Japan that were discovered by the South Korean cybersecurity police force include Joseon Infobank, Korea Book Center, Choseon Travel, Woori-minjok-kkiri (meaning "within our peoples"), Sili Bank, Choseon Lottery Cooperation, Jupesite, Goryeo Baduk (Baduk is Korean version of the board game checkers), Joseon Stamps, and Joseon Sinbo, Joseon Tongsin (Tongsin meaning correspondence), and Gukjeonseon (meaning channels between nations). Servers found in other foreign countries include Unification Arirang in China, Minjok Tongsin in the United States, and Korea Network[5].


South Korea actively censors pornography and has continued this practice since the early 1980s when political censorship began gaining traction. Prior to the ubiquitination of Internet technology, the South Korean government enthusiastically censored materials containing pornography by confiscating seditious books or banning adult video production. In modern times, regulations have changed to banning websites containing keywords that the government has set, including "porn", "child porn", "gay", and "lesbian"[6]. Since the early 2000s, the South Korean government has adopted a method of pornography censorship utilizing the tracking of HTTP host servers. Upon detecting pornography or other inappropriate content on a website, the information about the host server is quickly forwarded to the cybersecurity police through HTTP filtering.

The South Korean government also exercises an age verification system in search engines, which is triggered upon searching a keyword that is blacklisted as inappropriate for minors. In order to view mature content, Internet users in South Korea must enter their national identity number verifying their age, whereas non-citizens must enter passport information[7]. One might argue that this form of censorship contradicts the South Korean guaranteed freedom of expression, as previously discussed.

Korea Communications Commission

The Korea Communications Commission (KCC), was created in February of 2008 and works to regulate all media in Korea. Around this time, the Korea Communications Standards Commission (KCSC), replaced the Information and Communication Ethics Committee. The KCSC works within the KCC to regulate the Internet specifically. The KCC and the KCSC work closely together as the KCC identifies and monitors inappropriate content and the KCSC consequently takes it down. The Korean Internet Self-Governance Organization, KISO is another organization involved in media monitoring and censorship. While the KISO is not run by the government, it still works closely with the KCC and KCSC, collectively using a method coined "Real Name Verification" to coerce Internet users to give up a certain amount of personal information in order to be able to post information online. The KISO works with the largest Internet providers in Korea - Naver, DaumKakao, SK Communications, and KT [1].

A noteworthy rule that the KCSC implemented is the requirement of citizens of South Korea to enter their identification number issued by the government in order to post political comments online. Following this, the KSCS was barraged with heavy criticism from citizens, who argued the unethicality of having their social media networks and personal mobile apps monitored. Moreover, requiring identification and personal information from users likely serves as a measure to oppress the dissemination of potentially controversial or triggering language and/or political opinion. If a user senses that he/she is being surveilled by the government, said user is less likely to "act out" online (in this case, post any material that may be deemed unacceptable). At its core, these methods effectively inhibit the freedom of expression of South Korean citizens.

SNI filtering

Recently, in February 2019, the Korean government announced that they will reinforce their Internet censorship by adopting a new technology called SNI filtering. This act was passed with the intent to enhance cyber network security levels by censoring materials classified as 'inappropriate' and protect citizens from fraud or hacking.


SNI filtering (Server Name Indication)[8] is a new technology that is based on tracking HTTPS websites. 10 years ago, website addresses all started with "http://", where HTTP stands for Hypertext Transfer Protocol[9]. Hypertext Transfer Protocol precedes the actual presentation of the assigned webpage, acting as a request-response protocol. Essentially, the user, also known as the client, send an HTTP request to a server, and the server sends a response to the request by providing the client with files needed to load the website, such as HTML files, CSS files, and others. HTTP was developed with the purpose of leaving leeway for intermediate network agents between the client and the server to improve or enable the connection. It is this characteristic about HTTP that enables SNI filtering.

As numerous activities became available on the Internet, professionals felt the necessity to effectively secure sensitive data such as credit card numbers, social security numbers, and personal data. Out of this necessity, HTTPS was developed, where the extra S stands for "Secured", Using HTTPS, all sensitive data within the files being sent over the network is encrypted and sent over the Secure Sockets Layer (SSL), providing an added layer of security that does not improve someone's ability to eavesdrop on the communication but makes it incredibly difficult to actually understand the content[10]. In accordance context of this system, SNI filtering works by allowing connections only to servers that are enrolled in a certificate issued by the government, effectively filtering out websites that are not whitelisted by the government.

Technical Challenge

One problem with SNI filtering technology is that it is only applicable to well-known legacy browsers running on updated operating systems. Browsers in which SNI filtering is applicable include Google Chrome, Firefox, and Safari, which are browsers used by an extreme majority of people around the globe. However, the small fraction of people who use outdated browsers and/or operating systems remain vulnerable to highly developed cyberattacks. Common non-legacy browsers and outdated operating systems that are still used include Internet Explorer, Windows XP operating system(or older), and Android 2.3 phone operating system (or older). These browsers may result in a cyber-fallacy during the certification process, also known as a handshake, which would result in a name mismatch error. One solution to this problem is the use of a multi-domain TLS (Transport Layer Security) as a default certificate, which would prevent a name mismatch error since the IP addresses are shared[11].

Ethical Issues

Concerns about no privacy

Surveillance and Voyeurism by Government

Newly adopted technology in South Korea - Server Name Indication (SNI) filtering - is apparently hosted and conducted by the South Korean government. Users in South Korea will inevitably be restricted in their range of freedom whether it be related to politics or pornography. But the technology itself has a backdoor which allows the host (or the boss) to gain access to sensitive information. The host is able to read (1) where the protocol was made and (2) where the protocol is headed. The location of where the protocol is headed refers to the information users are seeking out or looking up. This technically infers continuous surveillance, and in this case, the South Korean government is the one who is watching all of the users. On top of that, there is no way for the general public to figure out whether or not their search history is being surveilled - or if they are actually being watched - until they are made aware. From a wider point of view, it can be perfect surveillance which completely counters cyber ethics. The Internet environment is widely known to be a free space with anonymity, privacy, and without surveillance but with this new censorship policy, users are at risk of turning into fish in a fishbowl, surrounded by guards. No one pays attention to the fish that 'behave' in the fishbowl, but once a fish makes 'trouble', the guards outside immediately catches them. The same thing is applied to SNI technology in South Korea - users will not know until the voyeur interferes [12]. As Doyle argued, perfect voyeurism cannot be justified in any case; the voyeur is violating the victim's right to privacy, an act that is intrinsically wrong (with respect to morals and/or ethics).

Invasion of privacy

SNI filtering technology was meant to be programmed in such a way that it only polices inappropriate websites. But the problem with using SNI filtering technology is that it gives too much authority to the person who is in control, governmental organizations in this case. The essence of this technology is that the programmer can obtain data about what kind of information users are trying to access[13]. The technology does not precisely track down every single step of access, but it does give data about keywords that were browsed or at least attempted to be used[14]. The Korean government acknowledged the concerns and criticisms that citizens raised and announced that Server Name Indication filtering will not be used in such a way where every single person is censored of what they are doing. People in South Korea are very concerned they will lose their freedom of expression, which seemed to be well preserved for at least the last 20 years, and show the anxiety of being watched all the time by the government. One citizen illustrated this situation as a disaster by comparing their experience to that of citizens of the People's Republic of China, where the government actively censors materials that are posted on the Internet and banning global search engines such as Google and Youtube. Nevertheless, Korean citizens are effectively being censored and/or surveilled if they are aware that such technology exists and has been/is being employed. A constant fear of being watched not only alters the average citizen's behavior, but contributes to feelings of distrust - as well as anti-government - sentiment.

See Also For Comparison and Reference


  1. 1.0 1.1 “South Korea and Internet Censorship” University of Washington, November. 2017,
  2. “South Korea.” South Korea | OpenNet Initiative,
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 “Internet Laws: South Korea”, 15 Nov. 2018, Political Censorship
  4. “Amendment of the ICNA and the Korean Government’s plan to expand restrictions on the use and collection of resident registration numbers” LEXOLOGY, July. 2012,
  5. “Police Announce 43 Active Pro-North Korean Websites” THE DONG-A ILBO, 8 September. 2004,
  6. “South Korea crusades against online pornography” LEXOLOGY, July. 2012,
  7. Schwartz, Barry., "Searching For An Adult Topic? You’ll Have To Prove Your Age To Google Korea" May 17, 2007
  8. “Server Name Indication”
  9. “Is South Korea Sliding Toward Digital Dictatorship?” Forbes, 25 Feb. 2012,
  10. “HTTPS Tutorials.” InstantSSL®,
  11. “What is Server Name Indication (SNI)?” Globalsign, 1 June. 2018,
  12. Doyle, T., 2009. Privacy and Perfect Voyeurism. Ethics Inf Technol, 11, 181–189
  13. “South Korea Expands Site Blocking Efforts with SNI Eavesdropping” TorrentFreak, 14 Feb. 2019,
  14. “South Korea is Censoring the Internet by Snooping on SNI Traffic” BleepingComputer, 13 Feb. 2019,